Taking your seat at Next Theatre is like becoming the fly on the wall at any local coffee haunt. Set Designer Courtney O’Neill and Props Designer Eileen Rozycki create an authentic scene: pastries, chalk board, mismatched furniture and an actual barista. O’Neill adds blurred depth using a glass door and windows. The hazy view looks out on the street and the merchant buildings beyond. In the first scene, Senior fills the café with the ensemble. Only two are featured for the actual scene but in hindsight everyone is in character. Jan Radcliff (Cathy) and James Leaming (Doug) are sitting quietly together like an old married couple. Margaret Kustermann (Polly) arrives noticeably confused. (I thought at first she won a walk-on role at the Next fundraiser.)
In a play about memory, Director Kimberly Senior plays with the audience’s memory. The first scene introduces all the show’s characters in subtle ways. As the plot progresses, we learn Radcliff and Leaming are an old married couple and Kustermann has dementia. Throughout Amy Herzog’s evocative story, the audience continues to connect dialogues from the past to the present to understand what has happened and is happening. Herzog’s script has a deliberate vagueness. It’s this ambiguity that keeps the plot from becoming a tidy, dramatic 2-hour Lifetime TV movie. The fuzziness of the childhood memory heightens the prickliness. The unknown becomes much more disturbing then the known.
The first and end scene are located in the coffee house. The other scenes are at various locales carved out of the café. As pivotal and life-changing moments happen between two people, the activity in the café never stops. That is reality illustrated to perfection. The show starts with an outstanding Matt Hawkins (Frank) tethering us to his soul. In ten minutes, we experience each of a dozen or so emotions that Hawkins is feeling. He then disappears into the coffeehouse until the final scene. Brett Schneider (Jamie) is left dealing with Hawkins’ secret. Schneider navigates himself through his relationships and memories seeking the truth. Whereas Hawkins’ turmoil is a condensed burst of ick, Schneider stews in big chunks of revelation and recollection. As he interacts with his past and present relationships, Schneider becomes un-tucked. He is unraveling still, life continues around him.
Herzog’s story is poignant. The subject matter is intense. Senior’s direction is thoughtful. And this ensemble is authentic. They are so honest in their portrayals; the audience experiences various levels of discomfort. THE GREAT GOD PAN delivers memorable truths.
Running Time: Seventy-five minutes with no intermission
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center
Written by Amy Herzog
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Sundays at 2pm
Thru May 11th
Buy Tickets at www.nexttheatre.org
Production photo by Michael Brosilow